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Small Feet: From Far Enough Away Everything Sounds Like the Ocean

As chance would have it, Swedish folk-rock-branded trio Small Feet recorded their debut LP mostly in an 18th century cabin on one of the islands within Stockholm — not just an old cabin or an island, a cabin on an island. This practice is less remarkable in Sweden, where the government leases such facilities to artists expressly for this purpose, and it’s not a new story, collectively, for introspective indie folk singer/songwriter types (with beards), but the method seems to have a good success rate, and it’s produced winning results on From Far Enough Away Everything Sounds Like the Ocean.

At once immediate (like our ears are right there in the cabin) and hypnotic (pulling the listener on a dinghy of yearning across a canal of reverb), the album’s potency is led by the band’s singer and songwriter, Simon Stålhamre, who possesses a vocal delivery that will inevitably be compared by just about everyone to early Neil Young. “Palm Trees” renders a particularly passionate, Young-esque delivery with contemplative lyrics to match: “I want there to be palm trees/I want there to be rafting and weird fruit” and “The savages have won now/And righteous men must move into the woods/But the trees are long gone and/A mall is sitting right there where they stood.” These lyrics are impressively typical of the album, which is consistently robust in songcraft and performances. FFEAESLTO’s arrangements are generally spare but crepuscular via oft-employed devastating reverberation and vocal harmonies, such as on the trudging, despondent “And Repeat.”

Stålhamre’s vehement, penetrating vocal delivery and world-weary words are the stars of the show for certain, yet there are occasional instrumental moments, such as the surprising wailing guitar solo at the end of “Dagmar,” and the whole seasoned-sounding production is fully accomplished and affecting. “And singers have no songs now/You see them in their slippers and their robes/Their mumbling is a melody/Reflected off a surface long ago.”

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2015 in Spotlight on

 

Album of the Week: Chelsea Wolfe: Abyss

On Abyss, Chelsea Wolfe brings the heaviness in her music to the fore in a way that’s more natural, and more compelling, than merely “going metal.” Given the darkness and drama present even on her unplugged album Unknown Rooms — as well as tours and collaborations with artists such as Russian Circles – it was inevitable that she’d embrace her metal leanings more fully, but Abyss exceeds expectations.

As always, she enlists old and new collaborators to help her bring these songs to their full, heavy glory. Along with her longtime bandmates Ben Chisholm and Dylan Fujioka, this time the players include Russian Circles’ Mike Sullivan and True Widow’s D.H. Phillips, and their contributions make each of the album’s meditations on love and loss feel like an event. “Iron Moon” — which was inspired by the poetry of a suicidal Chinese factory worker — alone boasts guitars that shift from a viper’s nest to folky delicacy to obliterating blasts. This heaviness is a perfect contrast to Wolfe’s vocals, which sound clearer, purer and in the case of “Dragged Out,” where they hover like tortured souls over a pit of lower-than-low riffs, eerier than ever. However, Wolfe is too much of an artist to just rely on metal tropes, and many of Abyss‘ best songs defy easy classification. She pairs tightly wound industrial beats and swooning vocals with doom metal guitars on “Carrion Flowers” for an effect that’s alternately slinky and head-banging; “After the Fall” is even more eclectic, combining deconstructed electronics and seething riffs in an unsettling and captivating fashion. Meanwhile, the stand-out “Survive” focuses on her vocals — which have an R&B cool to them here — and thundering drums for its formidable, desperate sensuality. Wolfe also finds time to honor the ethereal side of her music, and respites such as the string-driven “Grey Days” and “Crazy Love,” and the gorgeous “Maw” are gentler but no less compelling than the album’s climaxes.

More than ever, Abyss proves that she knows when to unleash her full fury and when to rein it in, and the results are stunning.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Album Of The Week

 

Heathered Pearls: Body Complex

After Jakub Alexander released Loyal, a collection of sedate and beat-less productions that nonetheless moved, he commissioned remixes for Loyal Reworks. Among the most memorable entries was a characteristically emotive remix from the veteran Lawrence, whose slowly evolving strain of techno – based in relaxed tempos, unconventional melodies, and diaphanous ambient layers – has evidently informed Alexander’s second Heathered Pearls album.

In fact, Body Complex would be at home on Lawrence’s Hamburg-based Dial as much as it is on Ghostly, the label for which Alexander serves as an A&R person. (The connection goes even deeper than that. Back in 2004, Ghostly was the outlet for a prime Lawrence EP.) While Loyal’s direction was inspired by nighttime oceanside lazing, Alexander cited early morning post-club driving as the setting and mood that prompted his approach here, though another passion is displayed in titles like “Interior Architecture Software,” “Sunken Living Area,” and “Artificial Foliage.” The content of the tracks, as well as the sequencing, is neatly designed and paced, with ambient pieces – the four shortest tracks – evenly distributed across the first and second halves, among longer yet still succinct rhythmic cuts. Label mates Shigeto and the Sight Below are featured, respectively, on two of the latter: the relatively gritty “Personal Kiosk” and the steadier, more soothing “Abandoned Mall Utopia.” Alexander saves the album’s lone vocal and most chilling moment, “Warm Air Estate,” for second-to-last. It features a spooky turn from Beacon’s Thomas Mullarney III under the alias Outerbridge, and when the stern beat drops out for roughly 40 seconds, then continues as it started, the effect is somehow twice as fearsome.

Like Alexander’s debut, this is one of one of Ghostly’s highest-quality releases of the 2010s. There’s no excess.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Spotlight on

 

ARCHIVED ALBUM: Wu-Tang Clan: The W

After a host of disappointing solo albums and quickly diminishing celebrity (most of the latter devoted to the continuing extra-legal saga of Ol’ Dirty Bastard), Wu-Tang Clan returned, very quietly, with 2000’s The W.

The lack of hype was fitting, for this is a very spartan work, especially compared to its predecessor, the sprawling and overblown Wu-Tang Forever. While the trademark sound is still much in force, group mastermind RZA jettisoned the elaborate beat symphonies and carefully placed strings of Forever in favor of tight productions with little more than scarred soul samples and tight, tough beats. The back-to-basics approach works well, not only because it rightly puts the focus back on the best cadre of rappers in the world of hip-hop, but also because RZA’s immense trackmaster talents can’t help but shine through anyway. Paranoid kung fu samples and bizarre found sounds drive the fantastic streets-is-watching nightmare “Careful (Click, Click).” Unfortunately, though, The W isn’t quite the masterpiece it sounds like after the first few tracks. It falls prey to the same inconsistency as Forever, resulting in half-formed tracks like “Conditioner,” with Snoop Dogg barely saving Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s lone appearance on the LP, a phoned-in vocal (in terms of sound and quality). When they’re hitting on all cylinders though, Wu-Tang Clan are nearly invincible; “Let My Niggas Live,” a feature with Nas, isn’t just claustrophobic and dense but positively strangling, and singles material like “Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)” and “Do You Really (Thang, Thang)” are punishing tracks.

Paring down Wu-Tang Forever – nearly a two-hour set – to the 60-minute work found here was a good start, but the Wu could probably create another masterpiece worthy of their début if they spent even more time in the editing room.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2015 in Archive Album Focus

 

Album Review – Fuck the Facts: Desire Will Rot

The latest Fuck the Facts offering Desire Will Rot begins, seductively enough, in fairly standard full-blast mode. But it isn’t long – 28 seconds, to be exact – before the band’s penchant for nuance rears its head. Double-bass drum volleys, pogo-inducing “death’n’roll” crunch reminiscent of Entombed, crossover thrash riffs, powerviolence, guttural hardcore, Yngwie Malmsteen-worthy guitar solos, and jazzy off-time grooves all come to brief fruition before melting away into whatever complementary shade of metal the band chooses next.

Originally intended for release as the main-course companion to the 2013 EP Amer, Desire Will Rot does bear some similarities to the style and tone of Amer’s seven songs, but it leans far less in the straight-ahead melodic-metal vein the band first explored on 2008’s Disgorge Mexico. Even those who are well familiar with Amer or the FTF catalogue as a whole wouldn’t immediately think to connect the two releases. Desire Will Rot was conceived and recorded just two years after Fuck the Facts solidified its current five-piece line-up in time to make the joint LP/EP set Die Miserable and Misery (both released on the same day in 2011).

The recent split-LP with Fistfuck, released this past May, gives us a glimpse into where FTF might be headed in the future, but it’s easy to see why the band is pushing Desire Will Rot, easily the more expansive of the two titles, as its quote-unquote actual new album.

 

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2015 in Spotlight on

 

Album Review – Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury: Ex Machina (OST)

Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury first collaborated on the excellent Drokk: Music Inspired by Mega-City One, an imaginary soundtrack to the world of the comic book character Judge Dredd, and their Ex Machina score is just as compelling.

Their music for Alex Garland’s artificial intelligence thriller recalls Drokk — as well as influences like John Carpenter and Vangelis — but this time Salisbury and Barrow take a more restrained approach. Beautiful but unsettling atmospheres like “The Turing Test” and “Watching” seem to come straight from the uncanny valley, while the serene “Skin” allows them to explore different emotional territory convincingly. Ex Machina’s lengthier tracks expand on the duo’s roots: “Falling” fuses synths and guitar harmonics into a sparkling web while “The Test Worked” builds on a bubbly analog synth motif that recalls vintage library music as well as Boards of Canada’s blend of ethereal and sinister.

Subtle and haunting, Ex Machina is another fine example of the quality film music Invada released in the 2010s.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2015 in Spotlight on

 

Comic Review: Young Terrorists #1

You know that saying about “when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade”? Well what if life gives you lemons, no jug or glass and makes you allergic to the rest of the ingredients? Oh, and somebody steals your lemons?

This is the kind of set-up for the main characters of the giant-sized first issue of Young Terrorists from Black Mask Studios. From the get go, you are not in some quaint “superheroes-vanquish-the-evil” type of story. You are in a world where bad things happen and continue to happen until, an equal and opposite bad thing is acted against it. This is the bit where the terrorist, I believe comes from, with the ability to challenge the state or a peer led group consciousness.

There is a lot going on in the first issue. We are introduced to Sera arguably the leader of the group, along with Cesar who seems like he is going to be major player. Each have their own story to tell, full of the horror of violent and sexual abuse. Written by Matt Pizzolo, the book contains a real world language, which helps to colour the suffering of the characters.

Through the use of exploitation (who is exploiting who I will leave to your own personal point of view), we get to see how the lives of quiet desperation can play out, differing from those who choose or are chosen to take action.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2015 in Comic Recommendation

 

TV Review: True Detective Season 2

'True Detective' Season 2: TV Review - The Hollywood Reporter

If you were watching carefully as HBO’s True Detective rolled through its critically acclaimed first season, it wasn’t hard to predict that it would be difficult to pull it off all over again.

The show was marked by exceptional work from Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, with Emmy-winning director Cary Fukunaga bringing creator Nic Pizzolatto’s look at two complicated and diametrically opposed partners to fruition in a moving, existential and even funny way. It was a series that worked best with McConaughey and Harrelson riffing off of each other (or yelling at each other), and less well as it tried to solve an over-arching, far-reaching set of occult murders that seemed less important than the relationship between the main characters.

That is to say that whatever True Detective accomplished in season one – tons of acclaim and 12 Emmy nominations (with five wins) – was directly related to the core group at the center of the show and how Pizzolatto’s words and Fukunaga’s incredible sense of place and composition managed to be more riveting than the whodunit nature of the plot. Its accomplishments were born of a rare alchemy that’s hard to accomplish and even harder to duplicate.

If season one was a brilliant surprise, season two sure isn’t sneaking up on anyone. It stars Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch, with a string of impressive names in the ensemble including Abigail Spencer (Rectify), Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), W. Earl Brown (Deadwood, American Crime), Ritchie Coster, Afemo Omilami, James Frain, Lolita Davidovich, David Morse and Rick Springfield.

Hell, the casting for season two got more ink than nearly all the pre-premiere hype of season one.

True Detective season one managed to hook us in the first hour, while season two keeps us at a cold arm’s length all the way through all episodes. Sadly what we get is the legendary (and feared) sophomore slump.

Review by Paul Elliott

 

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2015 in Movies / TV

 

Movie Review: Trainwreck

Trainwreck – Fresh but imperfect romantic comedy that's a launchpad for Amy Schumer | The List

Fast-rising comedy star Amy Schumer introduces a flawed, wise-cracking woman with commitment issues into the rom-com genre with Trainwreck, the fifth feature from director Judd Apatow. Her screenplay may adhere to a tried-and-tested formula but it playfully subverts it too.

When men’s mag journalist Amy (played by Schumer herself) is assigned to write a feature on sports doctor Aaron (Bill Hader) by her boss Dianna (Tilda Swinton), she ends up sleeping with him. It’s a set-up for a great joke which sees Amy completely boggled when he calls her after their one-night stand to ask her on a second date. Schumer also takes aim at the media, with the inclusion of a very funny editorial meeting which sidesteps coverage of important issues in favour of fluff and advertising. Moments like this are littered throughout and the punchlines mostly hit their mark, though there are a few misses too.

First and foremost the film revolves around Amy’s growth as a human being. Her relationships with her father Gordon (Colin Quinn) – who has recently been moved into a care home – and sister Kim (an exceptional Brie Larson) are a focal point which allow for thoughtful pause. And her burgeoning romance with Aaron is just part of her journey, albeit a wonderfully observed thread. Aaron’s friendship with game NBA star LeBron James – written as a caring man who drops Kanye West lyrics as life advice – also refreshingly turns the tables on the usual sexist bro-chat.

Amy is promiscuous, funny, unapologetic and full of conflicting emotions for the majority of the runtime. And the characterisation comes with a personal edge that really makes this protagonist stand out amongst the clumsy, hard-to-crack puzzles that frequent the genre.

Schumer’s brand of confrontational and acerbic wit, as seen in her TV show and stand-up, works exceptionally well in the comedic parts of the film, but the dramatic side sometimes feels forced. And though Trainwreck struggles with its structure – occasionally feeling like a sketch show – it’s certainly honest, though perhaps to a fault.

Review by Paul Elliott

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2015 in Movies / TV

 

TV Review: Wayward Pines

Wayward Pines Review: A Weird And Wild Small Town Mystery

Wayward Pines largely centers on Matt Dillon’s Secret Service agent Ethan Burke, whose latest mission involves tracking down a pair of fellow agents who went missing, including Carla Gugino’s Kate Hewson, with whom Ethan had a recent affair. His case is disrupted by a car accident, and he wakes up in the titular town’s mysteriously quiet hospital, being tended to by Pam, an unsettling nurse played with perfection by Melissa Leo.  With missing identification and no mobile phone, Ethan’s initial stay in Wayward Pines is troublesome, to say the least, especially since everyone around him acts like a pod person.

Each new person Ethan meets is another piece of the puzzle, there’s the blasé and unprofessional Sheriff Arnold Pope, played with subdued anger by Terrence Howard (who also stars in Fox’s Empire). There’s Toby Jones’ Dr. Jenkins, who appears more keen on making Ethan think he’s crazy than actually helping him. There’s Juliette Lewis’ bartender Beverly, one of few people who tries to help Ethan understand what’s happening. And later comes Hope Davis’ Megan Fisher, a school teacher who gives her students the ultimate education.

Based on a trilogy of novels by Blake Crouch, Wayward Pines was developed by The Playboy Club creator Chuck Hodge, with executive producer duties taken on by M. Night Shyamalan. The latter’s fingerprints are noticeable in every nook and cranny of this show – he also directed the pilot – and Wayward Pines often comes across as a selection of his films thrown into a blender and set to “pulse”.

All in all, Wayward Pines is a delightfully twisty romp that always seems to be winking at audiences, even during its most seriously complex moments. There are indeed questionable choices and aspects that fall flat, as well as an ever-present risk that it will all collapse beneath the weight of its own oddities, but it doesn’t.

Watch them all or watch none — the weirdness of this show only works as you get deeper into it.

Review by Paul Elliott

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2015 in Movies / TV

 

Mac DeMarco: Another One

The independent music world can at times seem like a snobbish, closed-off community, dangerously close to drowning in its own pretension. It is increasingly important, then, that it have a few jesters to stir up the status quo. Over his last three full-length releases Mac DeMarco has comfortably made the job of music class clown his own. Whether it’s inserting a drumstick into his rectum onstage or performing an encore consisting of the entire band repeatedly playing the Top Gun theme naked, the Canadian troublemaker is the embodiment of the classic don’t-give-a-shit attitude that has formed the basis for great rock and roll for decades.

Another One is a continuation of DeMarco’s trademark tomfoolery. However, he uses it in such a way that it makes the sentimental subject matter of lost love seem like a temporary speed bump in the fun-filled road ahead. DeMarco is a master at finding the silver lining in every dark cloud, meaning that even the longing for relationship happiness on “The Way You’d Love Her” revels in glorious summer sun rather than melancholy rain. The whole mini album glows with a kind of stoned satisfaction; a peace of mind that can be found in even the most tumultuous of relationship struggles. “Without Me” and “A Heart Like Hers” meander along at a steady pace, with woozy synths adding to the sense of intoxication.

Yet this slight deviation in sentiment for DeMarco is a noticeable and welcome one. It reinforces the fact that he isn’t simply a joker, but a real creative talent with an undeniably infectious sense of humour. Such a combination is a powerful one, and means that DeMarco is going to continue being far more than just a crowd pleaser for years to come.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2015 in Spotlight on

 

Georgia: Georgia

Stepping into the spotlight after years of working as a session drummer, Georgia Barnes (daughter of Leftfield’s Neil Barnes) introduces herself as a striking presence with her eponymous full-length debut.

Her distinctly British style of experimental pop music features caustic, buzzing bass and jagged beats reminiscent of grime, as well as distorted vocals and acid techno synth lines. It’s easy enough to compare her to M.I.A. or Micachu, especially given the deadpan vocals and city-dwelling lyrics of single “Move Systems,” but Georgia’s vocals are more often reminiscent of Kate Bush, and when pitched down a bit, as on “Hold It,” she starts to sound like Alison Moyet. Her percussion tracks are wonderfully busy, banging and clanging and bringing out the rough edge in her alternately sweet and rugged vocals. “Tell Me About It” successfully pays homage to Timbaland’s classic late-’90s productions for artists such as Aaliyah, utilizing stuttering, staccato drum programming, springy synths, and vocal ad-libs without managing to sound like a direct imitation and still sounding fresh. Her lyrics typically deal with the thorny, emotionally devastating side of relationships, and songs like “Nothing Solutions” and “You” are particularly heart-rending.

Georgia is highly skilled at crafting enjoyable, creative pop songs out of sonic elements that might seem jarring and subject matter that could potentially be uncomfortable. Armed with several strong songs, Georgia is an impressive, inventive debut.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2015 in Spotlight on

 

Album of the Week: HEALTH: Death Magic

As their furious earlier albums and all-caps name suggest, HEALTH don’t do anything in half-measures. On Death Magic, they throw the extremes of their music into even sharper contrast, juxtaposing moments that shred eardrums with ones that caress them. They exploit the tension between negative space and full-bore noise as expertly as ever on “Victim,” while “Men Today” and “Salvia” feel like fragmented flashbacks to the most intense parts of Get Colour.

However, Death Magic’s super-sweet pop is arguably more shocking than its outbursts, not only because it’s so catchy, but because HEALTH pull it off so well. “Life” is downright mellow, transforming Get Color’s breathy vocals and massive backdrops into a chillwave anthem; “L.A. Looks” adds a dash of poignancy, with Jacob Duzsik sighing “It’s not love but I still want you” over strobing synths and cavernous drums. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about Death Magic might be is the directness of HEALTH’s words and music. By organizing their previous chaos into widescreen industrial pop, they offer up their hearts — only to smash them. The band revels in heartbreak of epic proportions, using the visceral quality of their music to convey the physical toll of loss on “Courtship II” and mourning what was on “Flesh World (UK)”: “All the bones grew strong before they broke/All the blood runs hot before it’s cold.” Shades of their former collaborators Crystal Castles can be heard here and on bleakly pretty songs such as “Stonefist” and “Drugs Excist,” while “Dark Enough” reaches back farther for inspiration, exploding and reconfiguring Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys into gorgeously gloomy synth-pop.

While fans of HEALTH’s previous onslaughts might be disappointed by the preponderance of hooks and emotion on display here, Death Magic presents a 2010s version of HEALTH that fits in with the likes of the Soft Moon and Blanck Mass while delivering their most accessible music to date.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2015 in Album Of The Week

 
 
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